A new report by the Government Accountability Office finds that the food labeling industry is contributing to the increasing obesity and other health problems of Americans.
The GAO study examined the impact of the Food Marketing Service (FMLS) food labels on how Americans consume food.
The report found that while the labels did not create any significant changes in the food choices made by consumers, they may have led to a shift in consumer behavior that may be harmful.
The report found “that many consumers who did not use the labels were unaware of their choice of foods.
These consumers may be more likely to be exposed to harmful health messages and practices.”
In one instance, the GAO found that “in a sample of more than 100 randomly selected food retailers, consumers who responded to a survey said they believed they could purchase foods labeled with the FDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Food Labeling Code, but they were unaware that the FSIS Food Labels Code required the label to list the brand name of the product and the ingredients used.”
The GAOs study found that consumers who received a message that a product is made with GMO ingredients were more likely than those who did the same to eat processed foods that contained GMOs, and more likely also to eat “low-calorie” or low-fat foods.
The Food Safety Education and Advocacy Center (FSECA) of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the trade group that represents the food and beverage industry, called the report “disturbing.”
The FSECA said it “would be foolish for the federal government to allow food manufacturers to deceive consumers with false and misleading information about food ingredients and the safety of food products.”
“Food labels are a crucial tool in protecting consumers from harmful health risks, but the Food Safety Advisory Committee (FSAC) must ensure that food manufacturers are not able to evade consumer protection and mislead consumers by presenting false information,” the group said.
The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
The study found food labeling was not effective in reducing food insecurity.
Instead, the study found consumers were more concerned about health and safety and less likely to seek out healthy food.
While consumers who were unaware their food choices were subject to a food label were less likely than others to be concerned about the safety and quality of their food, those who were aware were more apt to avoid processed food.
The results are “disappointing, given that the government’s objective is to promote healthier food choices,” said Julie Siegel, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit group that advocates for better health for all Americans.
“Consumers should not have to choose between eating healthy foods and making smart food choices, particularly given that food labels provide consumers with information on how to choose healthy foods,” Siegel said.